Pulse - Chapter 13 - Wolves

Pulse - Chapter 13 - Wolves
Photo by Yuyeung Lau on Unsplash

Adam and Drexle stood side by side transfixed, their faces lit up by glare from the Chair room holoscreens. Their attention was drawn to a single, grey dot picked up by the security cameras. Whatever it was, it wasn't getting bigger, which meant that it had stopped at a considerable distance from the Glasshouse.

Adam put down the bowl of salad he was munching on, wiped his mouth and, without taking his eyes off the screens, asked Drexle if he could get closer. Without answering, Drexle tapped at the holo-keyboard floating in front of him and the Glasshouse security cameras immediately zoomed in on the strange, unidentified object until it came into view.

"Oh crap!" said Adam swallowing. "I know what that is."

"Some kind of transport?" offered Drexle.

"That's not just any old transport. That's an S.U.D."

"A what?"

"Uh... a Special Unit Dropship. Specifically, a Wolf squad. You can tell by the markings. See. There and there," explained Adam pointing at the screen towards the blown up image.

"Yes. I see it," said Drexle solemnly.

They watched as the special forces transport dropped it's payload under cover of powdery snow. Powerful thrusters rotated the vehicle 180 degrees. Then it took off in the direction it had come.

"Oh shit! Not good. Not good."

"How not good?"

"Don't you see? It didn't land."

"Umm..."

"They're not here to capture us. The drone would have waited if that was the case."

"Oh. I see."

"If the drone had landed, we might've been ok."

"So... Search and Destroy?"

Adam let out a deep sigh. "I'm afraid so, Drexle."

Was this it? Was this defeat? Where was the Voice? Was it not seeing this?

Drexle shot a sideways glance at Adam attempting to read his changing facial expressions; a blur of emotional states overlapping and collapsing into one. He knew that Adam was committed to the success of the mission, but, for a fleeting moment, Drexle picked up the desire to run; to get out of here now before the assassination squad arrived on their doorstep, before they reached Nikolai and Qi.

Adam was staring unblinking at the holoscreens, lost in conflicting thoughts and emotions, his bottom lip curling up under the tension. In his mind, he imagined a realm beyond the scenery displayed on the screens; a place where his new friends could be safe. A place where Niko, Drexle and Qi could live out the rest of their lives away from all this.

If he could sacrifice himself right now in the pursuit of that idyllic goal, he would gladly do it without giving it a second thought. But, right now, he needed to get back in the Chair and help Grace for as long as he could. Her mission was top priority and that's what he was here to assist with. Nothing could get in the way of that. Not now. Not after having come so far. The others would have to deal with the encroaching threat as best they could. There was no other option.

Finally, he blinked, lowered his gaze and, in a hoarse voice, said, “How much time do we have?”

"Twenty, maybe thirty minutes."

"Right. Remember, these are ground units, moving through thick snow. So that should buy us a little more time."

"Understood."

"Drexle, listen to me. We have to make every second count. You must keep those Wolves away from me at all cost." Adam paused, his head heavy with the consequences of his words, considering carefully what he was asking Drexle to sacrifice. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Drexle appeared to run a few potential scenarios through his mind before locking his shining eyes with Adam's and saying, "I understand Adam. You can count on me."

"Good. Is there anywhere we can put Nik and Qi? Keep them out of harms way?"

"Absolutely. The basement would be perfect. It's designed to be bomb proof. I'll take them there now. Then I'll set up as many booby traps as I can at all the entry points. That should improve our odds. Are you ok setting yourself up in here?"

"Yeah... I guess I have to be."

"When I get back, I'll lock the doors and wait by your side. Don't worry, I'll have a little surprise waiting for our visitors if any of them manage to get past my traps."

"Good... that's good to know," said Adam catching a fleeting sadness in Drexle's countenence. "Can I trust you to do what's necessary? I mean... if it comes to that?"

"You have my word, Adam. I wish we could have met under better circumstances. We may even have become friends. But these are the cards that we've been dealt. If I don't make it... I'm truly sorry about Elena. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt... she still had feelings for you. I wish things could have been different for both of you. For all of my friends."

Adam's eyes glazed over. He stretched out his hand and Drexle shook it. Neither of them knew if they would make it out alive, but both of them were ready to give their lives protecting Niko and Qi and to make sure Grace had all the help she needed to bring down the Sentients.

Once Drexle had left the Chair room, Adam wondered if their short two-man briefing had been sufficient to prepare for what was coming. What else could they do? They didn't have time. The makeshift arrangements that Drexle had spoken of would have to suffice. But would they grant Adam the time he needed to complete his mission?

With a heavy heart, Adam slipped back into the Chair. He’d quickly grown accustomed to the routine during his short and painfully eventful stay at the Glasshouse. But this was new. Without the others around to assist him, he'd have to manage on his own. There was no time for correct procedure. He picked up the already loaded syringe from the utility table, jammed the connector needle into the catheter protruding from his wrist, and injected the silvery contents into his left arm. He winced as the first drops of Stasis fluid entered his veins, making their way to his brain and opening up the channels that allowed him to commune with the Filter. Placing the sensor skullcap on his head and resting back on the Chair, he took one long, last breath and descended into the shadow world.

Drexle moved quickly. He found Niko and Qi in her private quarters. They were sitting cross-legged on the floor practicing a form of meditation that Qi had taught Nikolai over the years. They both looked up at Drexle when he walked in, a deep sadness still behind their eyes.

"We have to go," said Drexle assertively.

"Huh? What's happening?" questioned Qi, still a little drowsy.

"No time to explain. Both of you must go to the basement right now. I have to lock you in."

"What? Why?" said Niko, still blinking his eyes open.

"Come on, lets go! Now!" said Drexle with increased urgency.

"Drexle, you're scaring us. Just tell us what's going on."

"FOR FUCK'S SAKE! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK! WE DON'T HAVE ANY TIME! NOW MOVE!"

Qi and Nikolai stared wide eyed at Drexle for a few seconds before they could snap out of their trance and react to his orders. They'd never seen him like this. Judging by his uncommon display of anger, if they hadn't jumped up and started running towards the basement, he would've dragged them there himself.

Half way to the basement Nikolai turned back to Drexle and said, "Wait. What do you mean you have to lock us in? Aren't you coming with us?"

"Niko, I have to help Adam. He's still in the Chair. You have to understand."

"But what about you?"

"I have to deal with the threat, Niko. That's my job now. It's your job to stay safe. You must stay in the basement no matter what. You mustn't come up until the path is clear. You hear me?"

"NOOOOOOO!" cried Niko, tearing his arm away from Qi.

"Niko!" cried Qi.

"My dear boy, you have to go. This is important." said Drexle dropping to one knee and placing his hands gently on Niko's shoulders.

Nikolai began sobbing. "No. Not you as well."

"I will always love you Niko. Just remember that. Remember everything I have taught you. You are the future. You have to understand that. Honor your mother. And be the best human that you can be. I must go and help your real father now."

"YOU'RE my real father!" said Niko still crying, wiping tears from his cheeks.

"I was. But now Adam will have to take my place. He will teach you things that I never could. You must learn to trust him. Help him to recover. With Qi's help, I know that you can do this. You'll be in good hands."

"Come Niko. We must go. Drexle must do this so that we can live. We have no choice." Qi tried to be as diplomatic as possible, but understood how dangerous the situation was. For her, Niko's survival had also become the most important thing in her life and she was prepared to do everything in her power to ensure that he made it through this attack.

Drexle stood up and turned to Qi, nodding his consent for her to become Niko's guardian. He leaned in close and kissed her gently on the cheek. Qi closed her eyes for a second, lost in the moment. When she reopened them they were watery and reddish. She put her arm around Niko and guided him away towards the basement trapdoors. As they made their way down the stairs, Nikolai continued sobbing all the while, unable to tear his eyes away from Drexle's handsome face until he was out of sight.

Once below, Drexle slammed the reinforced steel doors shut and locked them by entering a code on the security panel. Adam didn't know the code, so if Drexle didn't make it, the doors could only be opened by Qi and Niko from the inside. And they would have to be 100% sure that the coast was clear before coming back up to the surface.

Drexle ran to the 'armory' on the other side of the Glasshouse. At least, that's what he and the others had called it during the many peaceful years they had spent living in the giant, jewel-like biodome that had been their home. In reality, the 'armory' consisted of a tiny room, no more than a closet, where Drexle stored his homemade grenades, molotovs, trip wires, remote triggers, sticky bombs, lasers, spray paints and other devices that would help if the Glasshouse ever came under attack.

Well, that time had come. The time was now. And because of the nature of the threat, most of the equipment that he'd prepared was of no use. There were a few items that were, though, and, without pause, he quickly stocked up on them using a trolley cart that he'd stolen from one of the service mechs on his way through the Inner Sanctum. The mechs were totally oblivious to the emergency and after blinking a few times in response to Drexle's rude interruption, had continued with their work duties as if nothing had happened.

As he wheeled the cart around the biodome's perimeter stopping at the entrances to place makeshift mines consisting of tripwires attached to various types of grenade, Drexle couldn't contain the flood of memories overwhelming his mindspace. Thoughts of Elena and the day they'd met were followed by mental images that captured the blissfully happy period in their lives during the time they'd spent working together under Dr. Westinghouse.

The present, he thought, was so far removed from the idyllic life that both he and Elena had planned together. Their compatibility scores had been off the charts and Elena had not hesitated in saying yes when Drexle had suggested a more permanent relationship. “I thought you’d never ask,” she had said in response to his proposal, “We’re a match made in heaven!” She had kissed him fully on the lips and his sensory matrix had never experienced such peak sensations since its initiation. As fragile as it seemed, at least their future had been filled with hope and an insatiable desire to overcome all obstacles in their path.

He relished the memory of their shared optimism and the safe haven they'd created for Niko. Then his focus returned sharply back to the matter at hand. No time now to wallow in nostalgia. His immediate duty was to ensure that Adam lived long enough to guide Grace and the others in the completion of the mission. The Sentients and the Elect had to be stopped for the greater good, for his kind and for the humans that would rebuild the world, both plugged and unplugged. For the innocent and the vulnerable. For Niko and Qi.

Drexle pushed back the thoughts of Elena's death at his own hands and continued to rig booby traps along the paths to the Inner Sanctum until he reached the Chair room. Once there, he set traps outside each of the opposing doors, closed them, and wheeled the cart to a stop alongside Adam. On the holoscreens, murky shapes could be seen moving in the distance, closing in. Drexle watched as he set up the final surprise for the visitors.

He went over the preparations again and concluded that he'd covered everything as best he could given the available time and materials. There was no way he could have defended Adam from multiple attackers approaching from different angles without his amateur box of tricks. Even if he was able to neutralize one or two of the mech-assassins, the remaining others would get to Adam before he could stop them. With this in mind, he'd already come up with the solution as soon as Adam had asked him to keep the Wolves away at any cost.

The solution was now sitting on the trolley cart in the form of an orange box wrapped in a bandolier of EMP grenades. The box that Drexle had affectionately named the T-1 (with the T standing for Terminator) was essentially the mini-suitcase nuke of EMP bombs. In capable hands, it could bring down a small army of mechs or even a Skywhale. The bandolier of leftover grenades was just the cherry on top. Drexle's little jack-in-the-box was primed and ready for action. When the time was right, all he had to do was flip the switch on the control panel and everything electronic within range of the box would become a victim of the pulse.

Drexle sat beside the Chair watching Adam's bare chest rise and fall, one hand on the detonator switch and the other caressing the rubberized grip of the same powerful handgun that he'd used to put down Elena. Now loaded with armor-piercing rounds, ready to deal with the military-grade invaders, he felt as if the tainted weapon was sending unwanted information up his arm to his brain, like violent flashes recalling the previous day's unfortunate events. The onslaught of memories came thick and fast now that set-up was done and the only thing left to distract him were the images on the holoscreens and the ticking of time marked by his own internal clock.

The shine in Drexle's eyes grew more intense as he watched several ghost-like figures move out of the deep snow onto the clear ground surrounding the Glasshouse, soft-padded paws carefully selecting where to tread next. Adam had called them Wolf units, but to Drexle, the now clearly visible assassins looked more like long-legged rats with their long, thin tails and triangular facial features. Of course, just like the latest Slaver designs, the Wolf-rats had no eyes, all the better to intimidate their prey.

Their skins appeared to adapt intelligently to their surroundings, gradually shifting from snow-white to the mixed, urban background of the biodome. A few markings were visible, some detailing along their flanks and around their heads, but no code, no serial numbers to betray their origins. Communications between the individual members of the squad were instantaneous and silent, never telegraphing their next movements. Drexle watched on as the pack of sleek assassins parted and took up positions outside two of the entrances ready to breach.

Adam was sitting serenely in the Chair, eyes closed, twitching, hands resting gently on the chair arms, no signs of deleterious involuntary movements, breathing pattern smooth, sustained. As he waited, Drexle couldn't help running through a few potential scenarios ranging from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic. There was no way he could know, for sure, if Adam would make it through this ordeal. And this uncertainty was bothering him deeply. There was only one thing that was certain right now and that was that he himself would probably be dead within the next five to ten minutes. The fact that he wouldn't be around to check on Adam after the event was literally eating him up inside. If a mech could become sick with anxiety, then this was certainly close to what it would feel like.

If Adam lived, would he forever curse his name for what he'd done to Elena? Drexle tried as best he could to reassure himself that he'd had no choice the night before. Elena, his love, had been mindjacked. Had she survived, her heavily damaged brain and nervous system would have condemned her to a life of misery and pain. No amount of therapy would have been able to restore her to the audacious woman that she'd once been.

Drexle looked down at Adam’s face and wondered if he would hear what he was about to say. He leaned in close to Adam’s ear and whispered, “Hello friend, I know you’re busy and I don’t have much time, so I’ll be brief. The Wolves are closing in. They’ve surrounded us. One or two may get caught in the door traps, but the rest will make it into our little sanctuary. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got a little surprise for those beasts. By the time you wake up, they’ll just be heaps of junk. Maybe you can recycle them? Put them to good use."

Drexle paused for a moment to collect his final thoughts before delivering them. “It’s been good knowing you Adam. You’re a good man. I wish I could have spent more time with you, but I feel my chances of survival are slim. Damned Wolves. I hope it’s all worth it. And yes... I loved her dearly. I hope that one day you’ll be able to forgive me.”

As Drexle carefully drew away from Adam’s face and leaned back into his chair, the first blast caught him by surprise. Startled, he gripped the pulse pistol tightly and pointed it toward the Chair room door to his right, the fingers of his other hand resting nervously on the T-1’s detonator switch.

Digital sensors sniffed the icy air picking up a scent and relaying the information to the rest of the pack. The Wolf-rat standing over the destroyed carcas of his fallen comrade had also been caught in the blast, but was still functional to 90% of its capability. The other units, five biomimetic mechs in total, registered the disturbance, but maintained their positions, upholding their role as cold, emotionless killers.

Human soldiers would have reacted by breaking formation and rushing to extract their wounded buddies, patching them up with the care bestowed on a sibling in need, or by removing the fallen from the battlefield so they could be returned to their families for a dignified burial. These stalkers couldn't care less about the unit that had just fallen victim to one of Drexle's booby traps. The scorched Wolf stepped over his defeated companion and walked through the now doorless entrance that was still smoldering around the edges where the doors had been blown off.

The other Wolves used the new information to scan the other entrance carefully before breaching. One of them moved in, popped out a small portable charge and placed it next to the tripwire mechanism that his companion had just detected. Then the pack took cover to either side of the entrance, hugging the walls, and triggered the explosive charge. Instantly, the doors were blown off their hinges and sent flying and the two mechs carefully entered the Glasshouse interior, pulsing their sonar and infrared scanners every second, hunting for signs of their prey with a precision as frosty as the surrounding environment.

Drexle was listening intently for the next explosion to come, to get a fix on the enemy, but it was taking too long. He was totally in the dark now. There was no security feed inside the walls of the biodome. No sounds of smashing glass. The covert tactical operators were obviously deactivating his traps, picking the locks on doors and breaking the containment seals which he'd activated to buy some time. He shifted his weight in the chair to see if he could pick up even the tiniest trace of noise. And there it was. Footsteps. Closer now. Quieter. Stopped. Silence.

The remaining Wolves carved a path inward towards the Inner Sanctum, neutralizing Drexle's traps one by one until they reached the final stretch leading to the Chair room. The team leader of pack number 1 crept up to the final containment doors ignoring the service mechs that were still obediently tending to the vegetable patch. Rising up onto its hind legs, the Wolf unit placed its front paw on the keycode pad and the screen began to run through a series of number combinations gradually narrowing down the solution until it pinged the successful code. Immediately, the entire doorway erupted in a storm of electrical activity, propelling the lead Wolf back into the others with enough force to knock them sideways.

Drexle allowed himself a smile as he sensed what had just happened. He'd rigged the Inner Sanctum containment chamber to channel all electrical power to the doors if anything dared to breach the security system. Nothing could survive that much current at close range, so he mentally struck off at least one more of the attackers. The holoscreens in the Chair room flickered on and off. Then stayed off for good. Drexle hoped that Adam and Grace could achieve their goals in the remaining time because once the switch was flipped on the T-1, it was all over. The Chair would lose all power and Adam his connection to Grace via the Filter.

The two Wolves that had been knocked down by their electrocuted teammate picked themselves up and continued with their mission, a little shaken, but undeterred. They bypassed the discharged containment doors and set themselves up outside the Chair room for the final breach. Their single comrade approaching from the other side did the same, all of them ready to execute on the new leader's command.

Drexle wasn't sure how many Wolves had survived his traps. What he did know was that they were now creeping around outside the Chair room. With his pistol arm still up, taking the strain with ease, his eyes suddenly darted left to the other door. The sound of scratching followed by the gentle bumping of objects moving into place. Then, movement on the right again, shuffling, preparing. This is it, he thought. But he had to be sure, see the invaders with his own eyes, take them all down in one fell swoop. There were no second chances.

The three remaining Wolf units simultaneously fired their side-mounted breaching shotguns at the door locks on either side of the circular Chair room. A second later, two Wolves rushed in from the left getting in each other’s way. The third robot charged in from the right and launched itself through the air with immense power. All three assassins ignored Drexle. To the killers, there was only one target in the room and he'd been identified before they'd even breached the doors. Dr. Adam Taylor's heartbeat signature had been confirmed and the final order given to eliminate the target.

Drexle's heightened senses made the world around him appear to move in super slow-motion. The airborne Wolf unit was closing in on Adam's position like a Kamikaze pilot beyond the point of no return. A gleaming, ten-inch, ceramic blade shot out from under the beast's faceless, elongated mask. It was aimed directly at one thing and one thing only: Adam's exposed throat.

Before the two entangled assassins occupying the left flank had time to untangle themselves, Drexle took rapid aim at the flying Wolf’s head, pulled the trigger on the powerful handgun, then flipped the switch on the Terminator-1 EMP bomb. One second later, Drexle's consciousness plunged into darkness as if the only light in the universe had been extinguished.


Adam sputtered, shook his head, then gradually opened his eyes, an intense searing pain raging up and down his body. Darkness. A hint of dim light filtering in through the open Chair room doors from outside the Inner Sanctum. Drexle's surprise package must've knocked out the backup power generator as well as everything else by the look of things. Boy, that thing really packed a punch!

After several attempts, Adam finally managed to sit up, remove the catheter from his wrist and the skullcap from his sore head, before trying as best he could to peer into the gloom at the shapes that lay strewn on the floor all around him. Must find a flashlight, he thought. How long had he been out? Obviously hours had gone by judging by the failing light. Or was it the next day already? He really couldn't tell, and his uncertainty turned to panic as he remembered the events leading up to the last time he went under. Shit! What about Nik and Qi? Where was Drexle?

He turned to lower his legs over the edge of the Chair, grimacing as he dropped onto the cold floor. Then he saw it. A shape came into view before him. His eyes adjusted and after blinking a few times, he recognized the mech slumped in front of him: Drexle. Yes, it was him, unconscious, one arm hanging by his side still gripping a pulse pistol and the other reaching out to an orange box sitting on a cart, his thumb still resting on what looked like a switch.

"Oh God. You poor bastard," muttered Adam, "You fucking did it. You saved my skin."

Adam continued to survey his surroundings, his eyesight rapidly adapting to the low light. On the floor next to the Chair he could make out the hulking form of one of the robot assassins. Something stuck out from under its face like a tongue, a grotesque symbolic gesture protruding from its twisted, lifeless body. Then he realized that the ten-inch blade had probably come close to slashing his throat open with a couple of sideways swipes. And that would've been the end of him were it not for Drexle's superhuman reflexes.

He rubbed his throat as he imagined the last few moments of Drexle’s encounter with the Wolves. A single armor-piercing round had been enough to throw the blade-wielding assassin’s trajectory off just enough for it to miss its target. Even with the powerful EMP blast, the robotic Wolf-rat killing machine would have maintained its path through the air, skewering Adam’s exposed throat like a Samurai's Wakizashi. Adam couldn't believe how close he'd been to death. A close shave indeed! Maybe he'd grow a beard for a while. Yeah. That's definitely something he could allow himself. Not that he felt like celebrating anything just yet. He was assuming that it was all wrapped up. It certainly looked that way. But he had to check on the others. And part of him wasn't looking forward to it. He was scared of what he might find.

He moved to the holoscreen console fumbling for the small flashlight that he knew was lying around somewhere. He found it and switched it on, the thin beam of light instantly making him feel more secure. He waved the beam around the room and discovered two more Wolves, one collapsed on top of the other like a couple of oversized pets snoozing peacefully. Adam turned the beam back to Drexle, inspecting him for damage, but he looked to be unscathed. Peaceful too, eyes closed, like he was taking a long, well-deserved nap.

"You did the right thing, friend," said Adam realizing that Drexle would indeed have become a friend if life had given them that opportunity. He sighed and made his way out of the Chair room, carefully stepping around the large Wolf-like corpses, as if not to wake them, thinking they actually looked a little rat-like too. As he traversed the Inner Sanctum on his way to the basement trapdoors, a thought, like a distant echo, whispered to him. Perhaps the Wolves could be recycled, put to good use in some way? "I'll see what I can do Drexle," he whispered back.

Adam eventually found Nikolai and Qi outside the Glasshouse. They had already prepared Elena for her burial. It had to be here. This was her home. Qi explained to Adam that she'd let him sleep through the night undisturbed because he looked like he needed it. He thanked her and after he'd cleaned himself up a bit, helped Qi drag Drexle's body outside too. They would be buried side by side like any traditional married couple.

Nikolai, meanwhile, sat on the snowmobile contemplating the destroyed corpse of the first roboassassin to fall during the assault. He now understood that one of the drones they'd taken down must have relayed a message back to base before losing power. The Elect must have picked up the signal and their response was to send in the Wolves. Niko was still in shock, but his mind was already opening up to new thoughts, ideas that his innocent psyche had not had to deal with previously. Hatred, revenge, payback, punishment. These words suddenly took on a greater meaning for him and he privately vowed to act on them some day, when the opportunity presented itself, when the time was right.

By the time Adam and Qi had finished burying their friends, dawn was breaking on René-Levasseur Island. Standing outside the Jewel of the North, withstanding a bracing cold Canadian wind, Adam took some much needed deep breaths and allowed the icy air to penetrate the depths of his soul. His lungs hadn't felt this good in at least a decade. He looked to the distant snow-capped mountains, and for a fleeting moment, felt something that he hadn't felt for as long as he could remember; a glimmer, smoldering in the ashes of his mind: hope.

Adam recalled his near-death experience from the day before. Without the others to help resucitate him, he'd technically been dead for a short time. If it hadn't been for the Voice yelling and playing obnoxiously loud high-pitched sounds during that time Adam was certain that he wouldn't have made the journey back to the living. As it all came back to him, Qi looked on, visibly concerned. Adam's arms and shoulders dropped, becoming limp by his sides. His head nodded forwards and his knees gave way. He fell to the ground, face eating the dirt. Qi dropped beside him, turning him onto one side, and made sure he wasn't swallowing his tongue. Adam's eyes were out on stalks, gone. Like staring into another Galaxy gone. "No, no, no," cried Qi, not knowing what else to do.

Just as Qi was about to start pounding Adam's chest and breathe her breath into his lungs, the damned fool came to, and of all things... started giggling like a drunken sot. Adam didn't now what was happening, but whatever it was seemed to be at odds with the solemn moments they had just shared. His whole body was shaking with wave after wave of radiant energy. His brief blackout had felt like an eternity. He now knew that he'd seen things that no human had ever seen. Boundaries had been crossed. The veil had been lifted. Transported. Elevated. Dimensions opened. Other worlds flooding into view. Other realms inhabited by untold numbers of sapient beings. Staring back at him. Connected. Everything was connected. Infinite. Unfathomable.

The Voice came to him again. "You did it Adam. It's done."

Adam looked up at Qi, the amazing experience leaving him as quickly as it had come. Giggles turned to tears and his body shuddered uncontrollably as yet more Dust left his organism for good.

"Are you alright Adam?" asked Qi, genuinely worried that he might pass out again.

"I'm not sure," replied Adam pushing himself up onto his knees and clasping his hands together as if he was about to pray. Another voice, not the usual one, gate-crashed his mindspace, booming like a public service announcement, "YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY!"

Adam shook his head. What the hell was going on? Couldn't he mourn the death of his ex like a normal human being? Could he do anything like a normal human being? He was beginning to doubt that he could. Eventually, the sounds in his head faded and gave way to sorrow. The unbridled expedition into the unknown he'd just experienced began to recede like it was a long lost memory, someone else's memory, and Adam began to sob. Qi didn't know what was happening, but her instinct told her to put a comforting arm around him like he was a vulnerable child.

"Because of me... because of ME... all of THIS!" Adam blurted out between bouts of violent sobbing.

The early morning sunshine lit up the Glasshouse like a diamond. Nikolai somehow knew that this would be the last time that he laid eyes on it. His home. The magical place where he grew up. Deep down, he just had a feeling. He sighed heavily, then watched from a distance as his father wept into the freshly laid snow until there were no more tears.

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